Housing the Homeless

Below is an excerpt from the "Overview" section of the CQ Researcher report on "Housing the Homeless" by Peter Katel, December 18, 2009

Leida Ortiz was getting by. She lived with her sister and both of their children in an apartment in Worcester, Mass. Then, in the spring of 2007, her factory-worker father was diagnosed with stomach cancer, so Ortiz moved back into the home her parents owned to help her mother care for her father.

After he died, in December of that year, Ortiz and her mother couldn’t afford the mortgage payments on the house. A move back to her sister’s didn’t work out, so Ortiz and her two children began sharing an apartment with a roommate. But she wasn’t making enough from her part-time job as a nursing assistant to kick in her $400 share of the rent.

The roommate asked her and her 11-year-old son, Joseph, and 5-year-old daughter, Angelina, to leave.

“I became homeless in July,” Ortiz said. “I cried every night, wondering if my kids were going to end up in different schools somewhere else. We were living out of our bags. We didn’t know where we were going to end up next. The kids, they see that you’re stressed, they get stressed. They see you putting yourself to sleep every night crying.”

Speaking at a Capitol Hill briefing held by an advocacy group in early December, Ortiz recounted a happy ending to her family’s two-week stay at a motel. She urged the assembled housing advocates and congressional staffers to work to expand the “prevention and rapid rehousing” program that she credited for her family’s rescue.

Now working three part-time jobs, the 30-year-old Ortiz hardly fits the picture of “homeless” that hit the national consciousness in the early 1980s – seemingly unemployable people suffering mental illness or addiction or both. But in an economic climate shadowed by massive unemployment, some experts see working families facing threats to their housing stability that easily can escalate into homelessness, as in Ortiz’s case. “When you’re going into a recession starting with a limited supply of affordable housing, with families who are precariously housed and at risk, it’s the perfect storm for families,” says Mary K. Cunningham, a housing specialist at the nonpartisan Urban Institute think tank.

In 2008, homelessness among people in families rose by 9 percent over the number from the previous year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reported in an annual survey on homelessness.

Overall, about 1.6 million people slept in homeless shelters or other temporary housing in the United States in 2008, the report said. Whether that rough estimate shows an increase or decrease from the 1980s can’t be determined, Cunningham says, given the vast differences in methodology from then until now.

Whatever the case, housing advocates are united in the belief that government action can eliminate homelessness once and for all. Conservatives tend to be more skeptical, though ideology isn’t a reliable guide to views on homelessness.

“It is immoral,” Cheh Kim, a staff member for Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo., told the Capitol Hill briefing. “People need to understand that anybody can slip into homelessness. Just go into shelters and talk to people and realize that a lot of them were middle-income, or owned small businesses, and because of one little thing in their life, they just fell down.”

To be sure, Kim’s overall view was that Congress has been responding effectively to the persistence of homelessness. A major piece of evidence: a $1.5 billion appropriation in mid-2009 for a new Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP).

But Joel Segal, a staffer for Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., argued at the briefing that congressional attitudes remain an obstacle to a definitive solution to homelessness. “A majority of people in Congress do think that homeless people want to be homeless,” Segal told Kim and the rest of those present. “That’s who they see in the streets pushing the baskets. Trust me on this – they do not know who’s in those shelters, because most members of Congress are raising money from very wealthy donors.’ “

Notwithstanding the staffers’ emphasis on shelters, the growing consensus among advocates for the homeless is that a danger exists of policy makers focusing too heavily on shelters. That approach, they say, would effectively mean continuing to channel mentally unstable and chronically homeless people into shelters instead of expanding a newer strategy of building permanent facilities designed to meet their needs. And families in unstable housing situations – perhaps “doubled up” in relatives’ homes – should be kept out of shelters in the first place.

“What we’ve learned over the past 10 years is that building up a bigger shelter system is a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy,” says Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

A number of sources report rising housing instability among families. HUD experts studying present-day trends see a link between the economic crisis and the growing number of families in shelters. The National School Boards Association said in January 2009 that 724 of the country’s nearly 14,000 school districts had already served 75 percent or more of the number of homeless students they’d served during the 2007-2008 school year.

Districts track the trend because the Education for Homeless Children and Youth Act requires schools to provide the same level of education to students without fixed addresses as to all other children and youth. Schools can also use grants made under the law to provide homeless students with medical and dental care and other services.

A constellation of other laws authorizes programs designed for the “chronically” homeless, for households who can’t afford decent housing and for veterans without homes.

This year, Congress added new forms of assistance, including the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act for families facing imminent loss of housing or recently made homeless. The law also promotes the construction of so-called “supportive housing” for the long-term homeless, who need mental health services and similar services along with roofs over their heads.

Meanwhile, about 2 million families nationwide receive substantial help in paying their rents under the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program, in place since 1974 and revamped in 1998. For many housing advocates, Section 8 vouchers represent a speedy way to expand the supply of affordable housing, the lack of which they view as a major contributor to homelessness.

Some conservative policy experts say the problem isn’t a shortage of affordable housing but deeply rooted poverty – a condition they call ill-suited for resolution by housing subsidies. “The idea that housing is unaffordable and that we’ve done nothing about it – give me a break,” says Howard Husock, vice president of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a New York think tank. “What we’ve done to make housing more affordable over the past 30 years is so extensive that I would inquire of advocates what more they would have government do.”

Even so, HUD, which administers three of those programs, calculates that a family with one full-time, minimum-wage worker can’t afford a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the country.

As a practical matter, a one-earner family means a household headed by a single mother – the population segment that by all accounts is the most economically and socially vulnerable to deep poverty. The HUD annual report says that families in shelters are typically headed by a single mother.

Ortiz, the once-homeless single mother in Worcester, Mass., says that she was able to start turning her life around only after her city’s housing program helped her find an $850-a-month apartment, which she pays for with the help of a $700 monthly subsidy from the “rapid rehousing” program.

Before that, she says. “I couldn’t get more work hours because of my kids getting out of school at 4:10. I didn’t have anybody reliable enough to drop them off for me or pick them up if I did get a full-time job, and after-school programs cost so much.”

Once she and her family got a place of their own, she found a friend who could pick up the children twice a week, allowing Ortiz to work two part-time jobs as a nursing assistant, and one in a party-supply store. In addition, she’s studying for the GED, planning to then enroll in medical-technology training.

“Things are slowly falling into place for me,” she says. “A shelter would have been no way for my kids to live. It’s not the same as having your house.”

The Issues
* Can government end homelessness?
* Should the definition of homeless include people in unstable housing situations?
* Are housing subsidies the best way to help families facing homelessness?

For more information see the CQ Researcher report on "Housing the Homeless" [subscription required] or purchase the CQ Researcher PDF.

Bilingual Education vs. English Immersion

To follow is an excerpt from the "Overview" section of the report on "Bilingual Education vs. English Immersion" by Kenneth Jost, December 11, 2009

Miriam Flores remembers that her daughter Miriam was doing well in her first two years in school in the border town of Nogales, Ariz.

“She knew how to read and write in Spanish,” Flores says of her daughter, now a college student. “She would even correct the teacher on accents and spelling.”

In the third grade, however, Miriam began having difficulties. Her grades went down, and she began having nightmares.

Miriam’s mother has a simple explanation for the change. In the early 1990s, Nogales provided bilingual education – teaching English learners in both their native language and English – but only through the first two grades. “It was the language,” Flores says.

Miriam’s new teacher did not speak Spanish, taught only in English and seemed uninterested in Miriam’s language difficulties, Flores says. “Miriam is a very quiet child, and I thought it was strange that the teacher would say that she talked a lot,” Flores recalls today. “Then Miriam told me, ‘I ask the other kids what the teacher is saying.’ She didn’t understand.”

Flores’ frustrations with her daughter’s schooling led her to join with other Spanish-speaking Nogales families in 1992 in filing a federal suit aimed at improving educational opportunities for non-English-speaking students in the overwhelmingly Hispanic town. The class action suit claimed the school district was failing to comply with a federal law – the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 – which requires each state to take “appropriate action” to ensure that English-language learners (ELLs) enjoy “equal participation in its instructional programs.”

Seventeen years later, the case is still in federal court. The plaintiffs won a pivotal decision in 2001 requiring Arizona to boost funding for English-language learning in Nogales and the rest of the state. In a narrowly divided decision in June, however, the Supreme Court gave state officials an opportunity to set aside the lower court ruling.

Writing for the 5-4 majority, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said the federal district judge had failed to adequately consider changed circumstances since 2001. Among other changes, Alito cited the state’s decision to drop bilingual education in favor of so-called “sheltered English immersion” as the officially prescribed method of instruction for students with limited English proficiency.

Arizona’s voters had decisively rejected bilingual education in a 2000 ballot measure. Along with similar measures passed in California in 1998 and Massachusetts in 2002, Arizona’s Proposition 203 embodied a popular backlash against bilingual education that had grown since the 1980s. Critics of bilingual teaching viewed it as a politically correct relic of the 1960s and ‘70s that had proven academically ineffective and politically divisive.

The debate between English-only instruction and bilingual education has been fierce for decades. “People get very hot under the collar,” says Christine Rossell, a professor of political science at Boston University and critic of bilingual education.

Those who support a bilingual approach, says Arizona Superintendent of Instruction Thomas Horne, “aren’t interested in teaching the kids English,” but want to maintain “a separatist nationalism that they can take advantage of.” Horne, a Republican, intervened with the state’s GOP legislative leaders to try to undo the federal court injunction.

“When I tell people that the best way to learn English is to be taught in Spanish, they think I’m joking,” says Rossell.

Supporters insist that bilingual education is the best way to ensure long-term educational achievement for English-language learners. “We have gone backwards on educating non-English speakers,” says José Ruiz-Escalante, a professor of bilingual education at the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg and president of the National Association for Bilingual Education. English-only proponents, he says, are “in such a hurry for students to speak English that we’re not paying attention to their cognitive development.”

“The important thing that students need to learn is how to think,” Ruiz-Escalante continues. “It doesn’t matter whether you learn to think in Spanish or in English. Kids will learn to speak English, but they will be limited” in their academic learning.

Out of nearly 50 million pupils in U.S. public elementary and secondary schools, about 5.1 million – more than one-tenth – are classified as having limited English proficiency. The number is growing because of increased immigration, both legal and illegal. The vast majority of English-language learners – nearly 80 percent – speak Spanish as their first language. But schools are also coping with rising numbers of students who speak a variety of other languages, almost all of which have far less similarity to English than Spanish has.

“It’s a growing challenge,” says Patte Barth, director of the Center for Public Education at the National School Boards Association (NSBA). “We have many more children coming into our schools for whom their first language is not English. At the same time, the need to educate every child to a high level is much more important than it was even 20 years ago.”

The imperative for results stems in part from enactment early in 2002 of the No Child Left Behind Act, the centerpiece of President George W. Bush’s educational-accountability initiative. The act mandated annual testing of students in grades 3-8 and required that schools demonstrate “adequate yearly progress,” including closing the achievement gap for English-language learners, at the risk of financial penalties for noncompliance.

The act also withdrew the federal preference for bilingual education over English-only instruction. Even so, Latino advocacy groups that have long complained of inadequate attention to Spanish-speaking students applaud the law’s emphasis on accountability. The act “changed the debate from what kind of education and curriculum to one of how do you best educate these kids,” says Raul Gonzalez, director of legislative affairs for NCLR, formerly the National Council of La Raza. “That’s where we think the debate should be.”

The federal government has no official count on the number of English learners in each instructional method, but the most recent survey by researchers indicates that the majority – about 60 percent – are in all-English curricula. Of that number, 12 percent receive no special services at all to aid English proficiency. The remaining English learners – about 40 percent – receive some form of bilingual instruction using their native language and English. The length of time in the bilingual programs varies from as little as one year to several. And, as Stanford University education professor Claude Goldenberg notes, there is no way to know the amount of support the students receive or the quality of the instruction.

In Arizona, state policy calls for English-language learners to receive four hours a day of intensive English instruction apart from their mainstream, English-only classes. Since the so-called “pullout” policy was implemented in 2008, the rate of reclassifying students from English-language learners to English-proficient has increased, Horne says. “Students need to learn English quickly to compete,” he says.

Tim Hogan, executive director of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest and the lead attorney in the Flores case, says it is “too early to tell” whether the four-hour pullout approach will be more effective than past policies that he describes as ineffective. But Hogan alleges that the policy segregates Spanish speakers from other students and risks delaying graduation by taking class time away from academic subjects.

Hogan stresses, however, that the lawsuit is aimed at ensuring adequate funding for English-language instruction, not at imposing a specific educational method. “We proved that the state funding [for English-language instruction] was totally arbitrary,” he says.

Horne counters that the Supreme Court decision leaves funding decisions up to the state. “The district court judges are being told not to micromanage the finances of the state education system,” he says.

Voluminous, statistics-heavy studies are cited by opposing advocacy groups as evidence to support their respective positions on the bilingual versus English-only debate. But Barth says language politics, not research, often determines school districts’ choice of instructional method. “A lot of it is political,” she says. “A lot of decisions about language instruction aren’t really informed by the research about what works for children.”

Whatever approach is used, many researchers say English-language learners’ needs are not being met. In their new book, Educating English Learners for a Transformed World, former George Mason University professors Virginia Collier and Wayne Thomas – who strongly advocate bilingual education – cite statistics showing a big achievement gap at the high-school level between native English speakers and students who entered school as English learners. Native English speakers have average scores on standardized tests around the 50th percentile, Collier and Thomas say, while English learners average around the 10th to 12th percentile.

Despite decades of attention and debate on the issue, “not much has happened,” says Kenji Hakuta, a professor at Stanford University’s School of Education in Palo Alto, Calif. “The problems of English-language learners persist whether it’s English-only or bilingual education.”

The Issues

* Is bilingual education effective for English-language learners?
* Is “English immersion” effective for English learners?
* Should funding for English-language learning be increased?

For more information see the CQ Global Researcher report on "Bilingual Education vs. English Immersion" [subscription required] or purchase the CQ Researcher PDF.

Rewriting History

This month, the CQ Global Researcher asks: "Can nations come to terms with their own legacies?" Below is the introduction to the December 2009 report on "Rewriting History" by Alan Greenblatt.

Every nation argues about its own history, seeking to find glory and a sense of identity by celebrating its heroes while downplaying the dark side of the past. Nations also argue with each other about the past, with one side's glorious victory still rankling as the other's ignominious defeat. And, frequently, a neighboring country that has been harmed by another's actions complains that the guilty nation is whitewashing the worst incidents. Currently, an attempt to normalize relations between Turkey and Armenia is proving a tough sell due to arguments about a mass slaughter that occurred more than 90 years ago. And Russia and its neighbors are engaged in heated debates about revealing the crimes of the Stalinist era. Like individuals, nations need to confront their own ghosts, but finding the balance between acknowledging past wrongdoing and learning to get along in the present can be a difficult feat. Such conflicts raise a fundamental philosophical question: Is historical accountability a human right?

(Note: To see how countries have dealt with historical controversies, click on the image to the right to view a larger version.)

The Issues:
* Can nations cover up atrocities?
* Is historical accountability a human right?
* Are national identities defined by shared history?

For more information see the CQ Global Researcher report on "Rewriting History" [subscription required] or purchase the CQ Researcher PDF

Prisoner Reentry

Are state governments doing enough to help prisoners reenter society?

Below is an excerpt from the CQ Researcher issue on "Prisoner Reentry" By Peter Katel, December 4, 2009

The basic argument for expanding reentry programs is simple: Virtually all prisoners will be released except those serving life sentences without the possibility of parole or facing execution. But if at least half of them will be returning to prison or jail, reducing that number by helping ex-prisoners gain a foothold in the outside world would be good for them — and for society.

Supporters of expanded reentry programs point out that even as state governments face budgetary strains ranging from serious to catastrophic, they can cut long-term prison costs by spending on reentry instead of on prison space, which is more expensive. States spend an average of $22,650 yearly to maintain one prisoner. [Footnote 11]

However, to make that case to state legislatures, advocates must show hard data on which kinds of reentry programs lower recidivism most effectively. But solid numbers only now are being assembled and reported. Recidivism among New York's CEO program participants, for instance, was 5.7 percent lower over a three-year period than in a control group of ex-prisoners not in the program.

But even without precise statistics on which kinds of programs are most effective, plenty of evidence shows approaches that don't work, say reentry program advocates.

For example, California imposes parole supervision on virtually all released prisoners — but doesn't have money for intensive supervision. The result: 66 percent of ex-prisoners returned to prison in 2003–2004 — compared with a national rate of 40 percent at that time. Two-thirds of those sent back to prison had violated parole conditions, according to a recent Justice Department study, which showed a dearth of reentry services.

“It is estimated that two-thirds or more of all California parolees have substance-abuse problems, and nearly all of them are required to be drug tested,” the study's authors reported. “Yet few of them will participate in appropriate treatment while in prison or on parole.” [Footnote 12]

Former prison inmate and California Republican state legislator Pat Nolan, now vice president of Prison Fellowship, a Christian rehabilitation group, calls the combination of newly released prisoners with drug problems and a near-absence of treatment programs “one of the great scandals of our current California prison system.” [Footnote 13]

Nolan argues that the rigid enforcement of parole conditions such as no drug use means that ex-prisoners get sent back for relatively minor offenses. “Drug possession — bam, you take them [back] to prison,” he says. “This guy can have a job, be supporting his family; he shouldn't use drugs, but do you want to disrupt his life, send him back to prison, for a first [parole] offense?”

But some prison system veterans say more reentry programs won't necessarily produce ex-prisoners better prepared to reenter society. “You can't make someone rehabilitate himself,” says Gary B. King, a 19-year veteran of the Florida Corrections Department, one of the country's biggest prison agencies. “Over the years, what I have seen as the most rehabilitative thing we do is when we hold people accountable for their actions; when an inmate commits an infraction we apply administrative sanctions. The more we make them follow the rules while they're in prison, and do that across the board, the more we prepare them for going back into society.”

King is now a classification officer who supervises individual prisoners' disciplinary records, progress reports and participation in educational or other programs at Columbia Correctional Institute, a medium-security institution near Lake City, Fla. He doubts a stronger emphasis on rehabilitation and reentry would make a big dent in Florida's recidivism rate. Nevertheless, he acknowledges that work-release programs do make sense for some prisoners nearing the end of their sentences, so they can experience the very different world outside prison. “Some inmates inside an institutional setting can do very well because their daily schedule is regimented, and they are quarantined from bad behavior and substance abuse,” he says. “Once at liberty to do as they please and associate with whomever they please, they do not do well. Some inmates do not seem to handle well the responsibility that comes with freedom.”

Yet even Crist, the conservative Republican Florida state senator, argues that the slim chances some prisoners have of staying out of trouble after release shouldn't block the state from expanding reentry programs for inmates who could benefit. “About one-third of the inmate population are hardened; you're going to have very little impact on them,” he says. “Another two-thirds [deserve] a running chance.”

Moreover, some prisoners with violent pasts may do well on the outside. “Somebody can go to prison with a first-degree felony and serve time and have an excellent track record and go through psychological testing and work release and have an excellent chance in the community,” he says.

But some conservative experts who support reentry expansion on principle question how well helping hardcore prisoners reenter can be carried out in practice. “We don't know a lot about what works,” says David B. Mulhausen, a senior policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation's Center for Data Analysis. “Usually, the impact is rather small, and other communities haven't always been successful in replicating it.”

Moreover, Mulhausen is skeptical about what he views as the political leanings of reentry advocates. “A lot of people [favoring] reentry programs really don't like prison,” he says. “They don't give credit to the fact that the drop in crime we've had in the past several years is partly due to incarceration.”

But the Sentencing Project, the leading alternatives-to-incarceration organization, says that while imprisonment plays a role in the drop in crime, that role may be smaller than Mulhausen and others assert. Crime dropped by about 12 percent in 1998–2003 in states with high imprisonment — and declined by the same rate in states in which incarceration diminished or stayed the same.

“There was no discernible pattern of states with higher rates of incarceration experiencing more significant declines in crime,” project staffers wrote. [Footnote 14]

The Issues:
* Are state governments doing enough to help prisoners reenter society?
* Should government or private organizations provide subsidized jobs for ex-prisoners?
* Do reentry programs significantly reduce recidivism?

[11] James J. Stephan, “State Prison Expenditures, 2001,” Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Justice Department, June 2004.
[12] Ryken Grattet, et al., “Parole Violations and Revocations in California: Analysis and Suggestions for Action,” Federal Probation, June 2009, pp. 2–4.
[13] Jennifer Warren, “He found a calling in prison,” Los Angeles Times, July 5, 2007, p. A1.
[14] Ryan S. King, et al., “Incarceration and Crime: A Complex Relationship,” Sentencing Project, 2005, pp. 3–4.


For more information see the CQ Researcher report on "Prisoner Reentry" [subscription required] or purchase the CQ Researcher PDF

The Value of a College Education

Below is an excerpt from the Overview section of this week's CQ Researcher report entitled "The Value of a College Education: Is a four-year degree the only path to a secure future?" by Thomas J. Billitteri, November 20, 2009

Mike Rowe, host of the cable-TV show “Dirty Jobs,” has a thing or two to say about work and education.

For 30 years, writes Rowe, whose show profiles some of the more challenging sides of blue-collar work, “we've convinced ourselves that ‘good jobs’ are the result of a four-year degree. That's bunk. Not all knowledge comes from college.” [Footnote 1]

Rowe's plainspoken view contradicts the lofty advice routinely dispensed to young people, that a bachelor's degree is a fundamental requirement for achieving the American Dream.

But with college costs soaring, skilled jobs such as welders and medical technicians in demand and millions of young adults ill-prepared for the rigors of a university education, some policy experts argue that while post-high-school education is vital in today's global economy, a four-year degree may be unnecessary for economic security — and perhaps even ill-advised.

“In many cases, young people think they are going to make substantial income just by having a college degree,” says Edwin L. Herr, a professor emeritus of education at Pennsylvania State University and co-author of Other Ways to Win, a book that analyzes alternatives to the traditional bachelor's degree. “There are a lot of people destined for unhappiness if we simply say that everybody ought to go to college. I don't think society in general requires everybody to go to college. It certainly requires people who have skills, and there certainly are ways to obtain those skills other than a four-year college.”

The Obama administration seems to agree. Under his American Graduation Initiative, announced in July, President Barack Obama is calling for an additional 5 million community college graduates by 2020, including those who earn associate degrees or certificates or who go on to graduate from four-year institutions. Beyond that, he wants every American to commit to at least a year of higher education or career training, whether at a community college or a four-year school, or through a vocational program or apprenticeship. [Footnote 2]

The United States had the highest percentages of college graduates in the world for most of the post-World War II era, but now the rates remain stagnant, according to the Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation for Education. About 39 percent of U.S. adults hold a two- or four-year degree, but in some countries, including Japan and South Korea, more than half of young adults ages 25 to 34 hold degrees, a foundation report said. “Even more disturbing for the U.S.,” it added, “rates in these other countries continue to climb while ours remain stagnant.”

Lumina estimated that at current college-graduation rates, “there will be a shortage of 16 million college-educated adults in the American workforce by 2025.” [Footnote 3]

Obama proposes to spend a record $12 billion over the next decade to strengthen the nation's system of 1,200 community colleges, part of a larger goal to restore the United States as the leader in college graduates by 2020.

“[F]or a long time there have been politicians who have spoken of training as a silver bullet and college as a cure-all,” Obama said. “It's not, and we know that.” But, he added, “We know that in the coming years, jobs requiring at least an associate degree are projected to grow twice as fast as jobs requiring no college experience. We will not fill those jobs — or even keep those jobs here in America — without the training offered by community colleges.” [Footnote 4]

To be sure, a bachelor's degree is a laudable goal for many young adults, one that can pay big dividends in personal satisfaction, career opportunities and earnings. In 2007 people with a bachelor's degree earned an average $57,181, or 63 percent more than those with some college or an associate's degree and 83 percent more than those with only a high-school diploma. [Footnote 5] And the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 4.9 percent in September for adults 25 and older with a bachelor's degree or higher, compared with 8.5 percent for those with less college and 10.8 percent for those with only a high-school education. [Footnote 6]
Types of Community Colleges, Enrollment and Demographics

Still, a four-year degree is not always the best option, workforce and public-policy experts argue.

For one thing, many students simply aren't cut out for college. “No one wants to really talk about this, but a lot of [teens] come out of high school unprepared to do legitimate college-level work,” says Kenneth C. Gray, a Pennsylvania State emeritus professor of education and coauthor with Herr of Other Ways to Win.

At the same time, four years of college demands a steep investment that may take years to recoup. In-state tuition, fees and room and board at a public four-year college now average $15,213 per year, up 5.9 percent in a year, though student aid often lowers the tab. At private schools, the bill — not counting any aid — runs $35,636 per year, up 4.3 percent in a year. [Footnote 7]

And a bachelor's degree is no guarantee of career success or upward mobility. Much may depend on the field of study. For instance, degrees in health care, computer science or engineering may offer far better prospects than those in the humanities.

Meanwhile, many good jobs simply don't require a bachelor's degree. About half of all employment is in so-called middle-skill occupations — jobs that require more than a high-school diploma but less than a four-year degree, according to a 2007 study by Robert Lerman, an economics professor at American University, and Harry J. Holzer, a professor at Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute. Demand for such workers will likely remain strong compared to the supply, they said. [Footnote 8]

“Real pay for radiological technicians increased 23 percent between 1997 and 2005, speech/respiratory therapists saw real increases of 10 to 14 percent and real pay for electricians rose by 18 percent,” they found. “These increases compare very favorably with the overall 5 percent increase for the average American worker.” [Footnote 9]

In June, in the depths of the current economic downturn, The New York Times noted that “employers are begging for qualified applicants for certain occupations, even in hard times.” [Footnote 10] Most of the jobs take years of experience, the newspaper noted. But some jobs in high demand, such as those in welding, don't require four years of college.

“Not everyone needs a degree, and not every job requires a four-year degree,” says Tony Zeiss, president of Central Piedmont Community College, a six-campus institution in and around Charlotte, N.C., with more than 70,000 part- and full-time students. “For decades, only about 22 percent of jobs have required a baccalaureate degree or higher, and yet 75 percent of the jobs consistently require training beyond high school but below a baccalaureate. That's community college.”

Still, whether community colleges, which get most of their money from recession-battered state and local governments, can keep up with demand remains an open question, especially as the Obama administration puts them at the center of his postsecondary education policy. [Footnote 11]

Nearly 40 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds were enrolled in college last year, a record number that was propelled by swelling community college attendance, according to Pew Research Center data reported by The New York Times. [Footnote 12]

“At the same time that we have tremendous increases in enrollment, states are cutting budgets like crazy,” says Norma G. Kent, vice president for communications at the American Association of Community Colleges. “Our tradition has been to do more with less, but there gets to be a stretching point beyond which you cannot go. Our credo is open access and open doors, and whether consciously or de facto, we are turning away students.”
In California, community colleges lost $840 million in state funding in the combined fiscal 2008–2009 and 2009–2010 budgets, according to Scott Lay, president and CEO of the Community College League of California. Institutions face eliminating course offerings and turning away students, he says. “We believe when this all shakes out, total enrollment will drop by about 250,000 students,” or 8.6 percent, by the 2010–2011 academic year, Lay says.

High-school vocational education programs have long offered the potential for non-college-bound students to learn the fundamentals of a marketable trade or craft, and then move directly into the job market or on to further training at a community college, technical school or even a four-year institution. Yet for decades “vo-ed” programs — typically wood shop or auto repair — carried a stigma, often unfairly, as a dumping ground for low achievers. In recent years, however, many vocational education programs have been transformed into progressive “career and technical education” (CTE) programs that integrate core academic training in math, reading and other essentials into job-specific courses like computer programming, medical technology, restaurant and hotel management and construction.

“Historically, there's been a real divide between the academic and vocational side,” says Julian Alssid, executive director of the Workforce Strategy Center in New York, a national nonprofit group that focuses on making education and workforce development more responsive to the economy. But, he adds, “we're seeing much more melding” of academic and technical training in career and technical programs.

The Issues:
* Is a four-year college degree necessary for financial security?
* Are high-school career and technical-education programs adequately preparing students for upward mobility?
* Can community colleges meet rising demand for their programs?

[1] Mike Rowe, “Work Is Not the Enemy.”
[2] “Remarks of President Barack Obama, Address to Joint Session of Congress,” The White House, Feb. 24, 2009.
[3] “A Stronger Nation through Higher Education,” Lumina Foundation for Education, February 2009. The Lumina Foundation said its data source is the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, “Education at a Glance 2008.”
[4] “Remarks of President Barack Obama,” op. cit. For background, see Scott W. Wright, “Community Colleges,” CQ Researcher, April 21, 2000, pp. 329–352.
[5] U.S. Census Bureau.
[6] Bureau of Labor Statistics, Oct. 2, 2009.
[7] “Trends in College Pricing 2009,” College Board.
[8] Harry J. Holzer and Robert Lerman, “America's Forgotten Middle-Skill Jobs,” Workforce Alliance, November 2007. Holzer and Lerman are both scholars at the Urban Institute.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Louis Uchitelle, “Despite Recession, High Demand for Skilled Labor,” The New York Times, June 24, 2009.
[11] For background on jobs and the economy, see the following CQ Researcher reports: Alan Greenblatt, “State Budget Crisis,” Sept. 11, 2009, pp. 741–764; Peter Katel, “Vanishing Jobs,” March 13, 2009, pp. 225–248; Marcia Clemmitt, “Public-Works Projects,” Feb. 20, 2009, pp. 153–176; Kenneth Jost, et al., “The Obama Presidency,” Jan. 30, 2009, pp. 73–104; Peter Katel, “Straining the Safety Net,” July 31, 2009, pp. 645–668.
[12] Tamar Lewin, “College Enrollment Set Record in 2008,” The New York Times, Oct. 30, 2009.

For more information see the CQ Researcher report on "The Value of a College Education" [subscription required] or purchase the CQ Researcher PDF

Should combat roles be fully opened to women?

Below is an excerpt from this week's CQ Researcher on "Women in the Military" by Marcia Clemmitt, November 13, 2009

More than 90 percent of armed-services jobs are open to women. The largest remaining all-male job category is ground-combat units — infantry troops that directly seek out and engage the enemy in fire.

In interviews with military officers and analysts, “we were told repeatedly that, if relevant and realistic tests existed so that only qualified women (and men) were assigned to these positions, gender integration would not be an issue,” said analysts from the RAND Corporation think tank in an influential 1997 analysis. [Footnote 15]

“Women are already engaged in combat” because under today's conditions, “combat is everywhere,” says Martin of Bryn Mawr. So the old distinctions between front-line positions that are barred to women versus more secure rear areas — where women are allowed — are no longer relevant and should be scrapped, he says.

“Units comprised of women and men have bonded … and maintained good order for centuries — or did they have separate-sex wagon trains pioneering the West?” wrote blogger and retired Air Force Capt. Barbara A. Wilson. “I have known some pretty weak men who wouldn't protect the back of their own mother in a crisis or combat situation and some strong women who would go to the wall for a total stranger in the trenches — and vice versa.” [Footnote 16]

Arguments against women in combat sometimes rest on “the military's mission to make professional killers” of its combat soldiers and women's supposed unsuitability for that role, says Iskra of the University of Maryland. But, in fact, “everybody recognizes that women can kill,” she says. “It's just not the cultural norm,” so it's easy to ignore.

Furthermore, there's now proof that “women in the combat area tend to defuse explosive situations just by their presence,” says Iskra. The evidence comes from the Lioness groups of women soldiers who accompany male Army and Marine Corps units on counterinsurgency missions, she says. With the women there, gaining control of explosive situations in hostile territory becomes mainly a matter of separating women and children out and “talking rather than shooting,” she says. “Imagine if somebody broke into your home. Of course the Iraqi men are shouting, panicking.” But “with the women there they know that their wives won't be raped,” and that confidence helps defuse the danger, she says.

Nevertheless, “the type of ground combat that involves directly attacking the enemy, actively rooting out enemy forces — not simply being in harm's way,” still exists, and there's no guarantee such aggressive missions won't be needed in the future, says Donnelly.

That being the case, “the strongest argument and the one that research backs up is that female soldiers do not have an equal opportunity to survive or help others survive” in situations requiring them to “go out and seek out the enemy,” Donnelly says. “Nobody questions the bravery of our women soldiers,” she continues, but “it's not fair to the women and not fair to the men” to put women in jobs serving directly with ground-combat troops because most women can't carry out required duties, such as carrying a wounded soldier from the front.

In combat areas toilet and washing facilities are rudimentary at best and, often, nonexistent, and some studies have found that, for women soldiers, “unmet basic hygiene needs affect morale” and their ability to cope in combat circumstances, says Browne of Wayne State. In such situations, some women “retained urine and stool and limited their water intake to reduce the number of times they would have to go to the bathroom,” which both increased their risk of urinary-tract infections and dehydration and decreased their ability to work at top efficiency. [Footnote 17]

Though the military is not willing to discuss the topic, sexual attraction would be inevitable in a mixed-gender combat unit and would quickly damage the required atmosphere of life-or-death trust, says a former infantry officer and West Point graduate who did three tours of duty in Iraq, including as a ground-combat officer in the August 2004 battle to control the city of Najaf in southern Iraq.

Women served in one supply company for his unit, and “when you'd go back there, you'd start looking at those girls and thinking, ‘My goodness,’” says the officer. If the women had served alongside the men in combat, “you would be distracted. A woman there would just get prettier and prettier every day,” he says. “I wouldn't do anything inappropriate, but I would worry because I know there'd be guys in my platoon who would act on their feelings, whether the woman wanted them to or not” — an extra concern for an officer already bearing the burden of leading troops in battle.

[15] Margaret C. Harrell and Laura L. Miller, “New Opportunities for Military Women; Effects Upon Readiness, Cohesion, Morale,” RAND, 1997, p. xvii.
[16] Barbara W. Wilson, “Women in Combat: Why Not,” Military Women Veterans blog.
[17] Kingsley Browne, Co-Ed Combat: The New Evidence that Women Shouldn't Fight the Nation's Wars (2007), p.259


For more information see the CQ Researcher report on "Women in the Military" [subscription required] or purchase the CQ Researcher PDF

CQ Global Researcher Video

A brief demonstration video of the CQ Global Researcher has been posted on the CQ Press Facebook page. This video gives a short introduction to the CQ Global Researcher, the sister publication of CQ Press's acclaimed CQ Researcher. Global Researcher offers balanced, objective coverage of newsworthy global affairs in the same easy-to-read CQ Researcher format.

An excerpt from this month's CQ Global Researcher on Terrorist Websites can be found here on the blog.

Should governments block terrorist Web sites?

Below is an excerpt from the CQ Global Researcher issue on "Terroism and the Internet" by Barbara Mantel, November, 2009

Many of those who think the Internet is a major terrorist recruiting tool say authorities should simply shut down terrorists' sites.

Often the call comes from politicians. “It is shocking the government has failed to shut down a single Web site, even though Parliament gave them that power,” Britain's opposition security minister, Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones, said last March. “This smacks of dangerous complacency and incompetence.” [Footnote 16]

In France, a minister for security said she wanted to stop terrorist propaganda on the Internet. [Footnote 17] And a European Commission official called for a Europe-wide prohibition on Web sites that post bomb-making instructions. [Footnote 18]

Although governments have shut down terrorist Web sites when they felt the information posted was too great a threat, some critics say such a move is legally complicated, logistically difficult and unwise.

Last year, three of the most important discussion forums used by Islamist terrorist groups disappeared from the Internet, including ek-Is.org, which had posted the six-part training manual. Jordanian terrorism expert Bakier says counterterrorism officials were so worried about the site that he “used to get requests from concerned agencies to translate the exact texts posted on ek-Is.org that were referenced in my articles. It was that serious.”

“It is widely assumed that Western intelligence agencies were responsible for removing the three sites,” and probably without the cooperation of the Internet service providers (ISPs) that host the sites, says Neumann, of King's College. “It would have required the cooperation of all the ISPs in the world,” because those Web sites were not accessible at all, he explains. Instead, he thinks intelligence agencies may have launched so-called denial-of-service attacks against the sites, bombarding them with so many requests that they crashed. This September, one of the sites resurfaced; however, many experts believe it is a hoax. [Footnote 19]

But government takedowns of terrorist sites — by whatever method — are not common, say many researchers. First, there are concerns about free speech.

“Who is going to decide who is a terrorist, who should be silenced and why?” asks Haifa University's Weimann. “Who is going to decide what kind of Web site should be removed? It can lead to political censorship.”

Concern about free speech may be more acute in the United States than elsewhere. Current U.S. statutes make it a crime to provide “material support” — including expert advice or assistance — to organizations designated as terrorist groups by the State Department. [Footnote 20] However, the First Amendment guarantee of free speech may trump the material support provisions.

“Exceptions to the First Amendment are fairly narrow” says Ian Ballon, an expert on Internet law practicing in California. “Child pornography is one, libelous or defamatory content another. There is no terrorism exception per se.” Words that would incite violence are clearly an exception to the First Amendment, he says, “but there is a concept of immediacy, and most terrorism sites would not necessarily meet that requirement.” A 1969 Supreme Court case, Brandenburg v. Ohio, held that the government cannot punish inflammatory speech unless it is inciting or likely to incite imminent lawless action. [Footnote 21]

In Europe, where free-speech rights are more circumscribed than in the United States, the legal landscape varies. Spain, for instance, outlaws as incitement “the act of performing public ennoblement, praise and/or justification of a terrorist group, operative or act,” explains Raphael Perl, head of the Action Against Terrorism Unit at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, a regional security organization with 56 member nations, based in Vienna, Austria. And the U.K. passed the Terrorism Acts of 2000 and 2006, which make it an offense to collect, make or possess material that could be used in a terrorist act, such as bomb-making manuals and information about potential targets. The 2006 act also outlaws the encouragement or glorification of terrorism.Footnote 22 Human Rights Watch says the measure is unnecessary, overly broad and potentially chilling of free speech. [Footnote 23]

Yet, it does not appear that governments are using their legal powers to shut down Web sites. “I haven't heard from any ISP in Europe so far that they have been asked by the police to take down terrorist pages,” says Michael Rotert, vice president of the European Internet Service Providers Association (EuroISPA).

For one thing, says Rotert, there is no common, legal, Europe-wide definition of terrorism. “We are requesting a common definition,” he says, “and then I think notice and takedown procedures could be discussed. But right now, such procedures only exist for child pornography.”

But even if a European consensus existed on what constitutes terrorism, the Internet has no borders. If an ISP shuts down a site, it can migrate to another hosting service and even register under a new domain name.

Instead of shutting down sites, some governments are considering filtering them. Germany recently passed a filtering law aimed at blocking child pornography, which it says could be expanded to block sites that promote terrorist acts. And Australia is testing a filtering system for both child pornography and material that advocates terrorism.

The outcry in both countries, however, has been tremendous, both on technical grounds — filtering can slow down Internet speed — and civil liberties grounds. “Other countries using similar systems to monitor Internet traffic have blacklisted political critics,” wrote an Australian newspaper columnist. “Is this really the direction we want our country to be heading? Communist China anyone? Burma? How about North Korea?” [Footnote 24]

Ultimately, filtering just may not be that effective. Determined Internet users can easily circumvent a national filter and access banned material that is legal elsewhere. And filtering cannot capture the dynamic parts of the Internet: the chat rooms, video sharing sites and blogs, for instance.

Even some governments with established filtering laws seem reluctant to remove terrorist sites. The government owns Singapore's Internet providers and screens all Web sites for content viewed as “‘objectionable’ or a potential threat to national security.” [Footnote 25] Yet Osman, of the Nanyang Technological University, says the government is not blocking Web sites that support terrorism. “I can still get access to many of them,” she says, “so a lot of other people can, too.”

In fact, counterterrorism officials around the world often prefer to monitor and infiltrate blogs, chat rooms, discussion forums and other Web sites where terrorists and sympathizers converse. If the sites remain active, they can be mined for intelligence.

“One reason [for not shutting down sites] is to take the temperature, to see whether the level of conversation is going up or down in terms of triggering an alert among security agencies,” says Anthony Bergin, director of research at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Another purpose is to disrupt terrorist attacks, says Bergin. Just recently, the violent postings of Texas resident Hosan Maher Husein Smadi to an extremist chat room attracted the attention of the FBI, which was monitoring the site. Agents set up a sting operation and arrested the 19-year-old Jordanian in late September after he allegedly tried to detonate what he thought was a bomb, provided by an undercover agent, in the parking garage beneath a Dallas skyscraper. [Footnote 26]


[16] Clodagh Hartley, “Govt Can't Stop ‘Web of Terror,’” The Sun (England), March 20, 2009, p. 2.

[17] “Interview given by Mme. Michèle Alliot-Marie, French Minister of the Interior, to Le Figaro,” French Embassy, Feb 1, 2008.

[18] Greg Goth, “Terror on the Internet: A Complex Issue, and Getting Harder,” IEEE Computer Society, March 2008.

[19] Howard Altman, “Al Qaeda's Web Revival,” The Daily Beast, Oct. 2, 2009.

[20] Gregory McNeal, “Cyber Embargo: Countering the Internet Jihad,” Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, vol. 39, no. 3, 2007–08, p. 792.

[21] Brandenburg v. Ohio.

[22] “Safeguarding Online: Explaining the Risk Posed by Violent Extremism,” op. cit., p. 3.

[23] Elizabeth Renieris, “Combating Incitement to Terrorism on the Internet: Comparative Approaches in the United States and the United Kingdom and the Need for an International Solution,” Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment and Technology Law, vol. 11:3:673, 2009, pp. 687–688.

[24] Fergus Watts, “Caught out by net plan,” Herald Sun (Australia), Dec. 29, 2008, p. 20.

[25] Weimann, op. cit., p. 180.

[26] “Jordanian accused in Dallas bomb plot goes to court,” CNN, Sept. 25, 2009.


For more information see the CQ Global Researcher report on "Terrorism and the Internet" [subscription required] or purchase the CQ Global Researcher PDF

Should advertisers' collection of data on Web users be regulated?

To follow is an excerpt from the CQ Researcher report "Online Privacy" by Patrick Marshall, November 6, 2009

Advertisers — working with ISPs, search engine providers and individual Web sites — are turning to ever more powerful tools to gather information about users so that they can more accurately target their ads. There are, however, very few checks on what advertisers and service providers can do with the data.

“Users have little idea how much information is gathered, who has access to it or how it is used,” Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, told Congress last spring. [Footnote 10] “This last point is critical because in the absence of legal rules, companies that are gathering this data will be free to use it for whatever purpose they wish — the data for a targeted ad today could become a detailed personal profile sold to a prospective employer or a government agency tomorrow.”

In fact, in most cases the only constraints on service providers in their collection and use of personal data are their own privacy policy statements. According to Peder Magee, senior staff attorney in the Federal Trade Commission's Division of Privacy and Identity Protection, if a company's practices violate its published promises, “that would be a deceptive claim and something we could take some action against.”

Privacy advocates warn, however, that some service providers don't offer promises about privacy at all. “As long as you don't actually promise anybody any privacy — and companies have gotten very good at writing privacy policies that contain all kinds of warm, ringing tones about how they care for your privacy without actually making any legal commitments — then they don't have to deliver any,” says Stanley at the American Civil Liberties Union.

As Stanley notes, even sites and service providers that do offer privacy statements generally do so in the form of rarely read, long and difficult-to-understand documents buried under an obscure link on a Web site. As a result, many if not most users are unaware of the extent of data being gathered about them and the uses to which it may be put.

With or without their knowledge, “people are giving information to a Web site in order for that site to provide them with a service,” says Stanley. “They don't expect that Web site will then turn around and share the information with six other sites, combine the information to create a profile and give it to an advertiser who will decide whether you're rich or poor and give you different opportunities as a result.”

Most users are also unaware that their Internet searches are recorded and can be used for profiling. “Internet search records are very, very intrusive records,” says Stanley. “The things that you do searches for indicate your hopes and fears, what you're thinking about, what you may be reading, diseases that you have and diseases you fear you might have, things you believe about other people.”

Advertisers justify collection of user data on two grounds. First, they argue that advertising is critical to keeping the Web vibrant. “The great majority of … Web sites and services are currently provided to consumers free of charge,” Charles Curran, executive director of the Network Advertising Initiative, an industry group, told a congressional hearing last June. [Footnote 11] “Instead of requiring visitors to register and pay a subscription fee, the operators of Web content and services subsidize their offerings with various types of advertising. These advertising revenues provide the creators of free Web content and services — site publishers, bloggers and software developers — with the income they need to pay their staffs and build and expand their online offerings.”

Second, advertisers argue the collection of user data helps advertisers better serve consumers. “Targeted advertising is extraordinarily important for everybody,” says Dan Jaffe, vice president of government relations for the Association of National Advertisers. That, he says, is because the more information advertisers have about users the fewer irrelevant ads will be delivered to those users.

Conversely, Jaffe says, restrictions on behavioral targeting won't cut down on advertising. “A lot of people seem to think that if they can stop behavioral advertising that they will somehow stop advertising,” he says. “Quite the contrary. Instead, you'll see an explosion of untargeted ads. You'll essentially increase the amount of spam because spam is, in effect, untargeted advertising.”

Rather than legislated restrictions on advertising practices, the advertising industry argues that self-regulation — including full disclosure through clear privacy statements and procedures for users to opt out of selected data-collection programs — should be sufficient to protect users' privacy interests.

Berin Szoka, director of the Center for Internet Freedom, a project of the Progress & Freedom Foundation, a “market-oriented” think tank in Washington, agrees. “I think industry can do this on its own,” says Szoka. “We should want companies to really make disclosures robust so that people really understand what they're doing.” Then, he says, leave it up to the Federal Trade Commission to deal with companies that violate their privacy agreements. “They should be going out and finding the truly bad actors in industry and bringing enforcement actions against them,” Szoka urges. “If they need more resources, we can talk about that.”

Szoka adds that user education is another important part of the solution. “What we should be doing here is trying to educate users about what is going on online and empowering them to make decisions for themselves,” he says. “If you really are very concerned about your privacy online, you have a very simple tool. You can go into your browser and use the basic cookie controls to opt out of browsing altogether, or site by site. You can create your own white lists or black lists. I would like to see those tools become much more powerful.”

Privacy advocates, however, are very skeptical of self-regulation. “While we remain hopeful that advertising models based on non-personally identifiable information can be made, there are still too many instances where companies, particularly where there is no regulation, fail to fulfill their responsibilities,” Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) told lawmakers last spring.

“Second, even if these privacy techniques are shown to be reliable, it will still be necessary to enact legislation to place the burden on the advertising company to prevent the reconstruction of user identity,” he added. “Without this statutory obligation, there would be no practical consequence if a company inadvertently disclosed personal information or simply changed its business model to true user-based profiling.”

[10] Statement of Marc Rotenberg, executive director, EPIC, and adjunct professor, Georgetown University Law Center, before House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, April 24, 2009.

[11] Statement of Charles Curran, executive director, Network Advertising Initiative, before House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection and Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, June 18, 2009.


The Issues:
* Do Americans need better protection?
* Are social networking sites doing enough to protect users' privacy?
* Do federal privacy policies regarding the Internet need to be updated?

For more information see the CQ Researcher report on "Online Privacy" [subscription required] or purchase the CQ Researcher PDF

Human Rights Issues

Are they a low priority under President Obama?
By Kenneth Jost, October 30, 2009

President Barack Obama reaffirmed U.S. support for human rights during an address to the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 23. Two weeks later he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”

Human rights advocates are voicing disappointment with what they have seen so far of President Obama's approach to human rights issues in forming U.S. foreign policy. They applaud Obama for working to restore U.S. influence on human rights by changing President George W. Bush's policies on interrogating and detaining terrorism suspects. But they also see evidence that the Obama administration is reluctant to challenge authoritarian governments for clamping down on political dissidents or rigging elections. As one example, these critics complain that Obama should not have tried to curry favor with the Chinese government by postponing a meeting with the Dalai Lama until after the president visits China in November. Administration officials insist Obama is devoted to human rights and democratization and cite among other moves the decision to join the United Nations Human Rights Council. Conservative critics, however, say the council is a flawed institution and the United States should have stayed out.

The Issues

* Is the Obama administration deemphasizing human rights in U.S. foreign policy?
* Is the Obama administration reducing U.S. support for democratization in other countries?
* Was President Obama right to have the United States join the United Nations Human Rights Council?

For more information see the CQ Researcher report on "Human Rights Issues" [subscription required] or purchase the CQ Researcher PDF

Do conspiracy theories appeal more to the right than the left?

Below is an excerpt from the recent CQ Researcher article on "Conspiracy Theories" by Peter Katel, October 23, 2009

A long tradition among historians and political scientists links conspiracy theories with the far right. Historian Richard Hofstadter's classic 1963 essay, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” focused exclusively on right-wing conspiracism. “The modern right wing … feels dispossessed: America has been largely taken away from them and their kind,” he wrote. “The old national security and independence have been destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners but major statesmen seated at the very centers of American power.” [Footnote 24]

Increasingly, however, conspiracy theory-watchers are concluding that conspiracism's appeal goes beyond ideology. For instance, the “truther” theories about the 9/11 attacks have attracted both left- and right-wingers. Indeed, some scholars have argued in recent years that theories once closely associated with the right have been attracting followers from the left. Anti-Semitism is the classic case, in the form of left-wing attacks on Israel that challenge its right to exist.

Shortly before the war in Iraq began in 2003, a conflict erupted in the anti-war left after Rabbi Michael Lerner of Berkeley, Calif., was blocked from speaking at a peace rally in San Francisco. Lerner had criticized one of the organizations sponsoring the event for planning to use it for anti-Israel propaganda purposes. “Fellow progressive Jews, some anxious to speak at these rallies, have urged me to keep quiet about anti-Semitism on the left,” Lerner wrote in The Wall Street Journal. [Footnote 25]

Since then, however, the furor over anti-Jewish prejudice on the left has quieted along with the anti-war movement. And some conspiracy theory opponents view the major conspiracist current of the moment as a right-wing trend. “Of all the conspiracy theorists, 90 percent are on the far right,” says Edward L. Winston, a St. Louis software engineer who runs a conspiracy-debunking Web site (conspiracyscience.com).

But Winston adds that the widespread and growing skepticism about government favors the expansion of conspiracism beyond what he considers its natural right-wing constituency. Media productions such as the first “Zeitgeist” movie — which mixes classical conspiracy theories about “international bankers” and new ones about Sept. 11 — may be broadening the ranks of conspiracy believers, he says. “I was surprised how popular ‘Zeitgeist’ was and how many people believed it,” he says.

Conspiracy scholar Pipes argues that linking conspiracy theories exclusively to the right is a long-standing and erroneous response. “It's as much a left phenomenon as it is right,” he says. “I would argue that the whole premise of communist ideology is a conspiracy theory — that the bosses are stealing your money.”

Vladimir I. Lenin — founder of the Soviet state — in effect confirmed the vision of those who denounced communist conspiracies, Pipes has argued. Lenin had concluded the countries that embraced capitalism took that path because the big-business class had covertly seized government power. Communists should follow that example, Lenin argued, and greet charges of conspiratorial methods as “flattering.” [Footnote 26]

The University of California's Olmsted argues that right-wing conspiracy theories tend to gain more traction, though she acknowledges that conspiracy theories appeal to the extremes on both right and left. “They feel they know the truth, yet the majority of the country votes against them,” she says. “Most people don't share their beliefs — or they think evil people in power are manipulating things.”

Still, conspiracy theories that appeal to those on the right usually become more prominent, Olmsted says, “because they're backed generally by people with more power.” Contrasting the attention that Limbaugh and other radio and TV talk-show hosts have given the “birther” theories, Olmsted notes that comparably popular supporters can't be found for the “truther” conspiracists. “Is there anyone really significant out there” among the 9/11 conspiracists “who has a real platform?” The “truther” movement generated no congressional legislation along the lines of the recent bill on birth certificates for presidential candidates.

Even so, the economic crisis may favor a resurgence of conspiracy theories that appeal to the left, says Michael Barkun, a professor of political science at Syracuse University who has studied conspiracies throughout his career. But that holds true for right-oriented theories as well, he adds. “Going well back into the 19th century, American conspiracists had almost a stylistic preference for conspiracy theories that emphasize financial power or financial manipulation,” he says. That preference applies on the left and right.

In general, conspiracy theories draw their strength from deep-seated needs and emotions, not from ideology, Barkun says. “Conspiracy theories have the psychological benefit of taking a complex reality and simplifying it. Whatever these things that bother you, they all are the result of some single cause.”

[24] Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics (2008 edition), pp. 23–24. For a view of Hofstadter as ahead of his time, see Thomas Frank, “From John Birchers to Birthers,” The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 21, 2009, p. A21.

[25] Michael Lerner, “The Antiwar Anti-Semites,” The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 12, 2003.

[26] Quoted in Daniel Pipes, Conspiracy: How the Paranoid Style Flourishes and Where It Comes From (1997), p. 175.

For more information see the CQ Researcher report on "Conspiracy Theories" [subscription required] or purchase the CQ Researcher PDF

Conspiracy Theories

Do conspiracy theories threaten democracy?
By Peter Katel, October 23, 2009

President Barack Obama is a foreign-born radical plotting to establish a dictatorship. His predecessor, George W. Bush, allowed the Sept. 11 attacks to occur in order to justify sending U.S. troops to Iraq. The federal government has plans to imprison political dissenters in detention camps in the United States. Welcome to the world of conspiracy theories. Since colonial times, conspiracies both far-fetched and plausible have been used to explain trends and events ranging from slavery to why U.S. forces were surprised at Pearl Harbor. In today's world, the communications revolution allows conspiracy theories to be spread more widely and quickly than ever before. But facts that undermine conspiracy theories move less rapidly through the Web, some experts worry. As a result, there may be growing acceptance of the notion that hidden forces control events, leading to eroding confidence in democracy, with repercussions that could lead Americans to large-scale withdrawal from civic life, or even to violence.

The Issues

* Are conspiracy theories becoming part of mainstream politics?
* Do conspiracy theories appeal more to the right than the left?
* Do conspiracy theories threaten democracy?

For more information see the CQ Researcher report on "Conspiracy Theories" subscription required] or purchase the CQ Researcher PDF

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Finally, a name for my illness.

Posted by Marcia Clemmitt, staff writer, CQ Researcher

Back in the early 1990s, I was a science reporter and also suffering through some of my worst days with what has now been a more than 20-year experience with the illness dubbed “chronic fatigue syndrome.”

Among my reporting assignments were stories on the field of immunology, then the scene of battles over whether to treat “chronic fatigue” like a true illness.

I knew the disease was real. Nothing but a real disease could explain the sore throats, extreme chills, itchy patches of super-dry skin and memory and concentration difficulties that I periodically experienced along with intense tiredness and sleeplessness. Accordingly, I asked every immunologist I spoke with about his or her views on the condition – not letting on that I had it, of course. The overwhelming majority of scientists and doctors I spoke with told me flatly that the disease was, in fact, not a disease but some other phenomenon, perhaps related to depression, some other psychological condition – mainly confined to hysterical females -- or simple malingering.

One doctor, however, had launched a careful research program on chronic fatigue, and he was uncovering a list of the actual symptoms, including most of the ones I experienced, such as a constantly runny nose, night sweats, unusual and severe headaches, eye problems and sudden, unexplainable joint pains. I didn’t reveal my personal interest to that doctor either, but I was relieved to hear that his symptom list closely echoed my own experience!

Much more gratifying, then, to read earlier this month that scientists have found a retrovirus – XMRV – that is present in a large majority of chronic fatigue sufferers and, now, presumed to be a biological cause of chronic fatigue, at last recognized as not only an illness but a communicable one, to boot.

A New York Times op-ed today explains what we’ve lost in the years when much of the science, medical and public-health communities kept their minds closed to that possibility (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/21/opinion/21johnson.html)

The illness first became news in 1984, when several hundred people living in Nevada, near Lake Tahoe, turned up with flu-like symptoms that led to neurological problems, “including severe memory loss and inability to understand conversation,” writes Hillary Johnson, author of Osler’s Web: Inside the Labyrinth of the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Epidemic.

Doctors and scientists couldn’t figure out what was going on, and ultimately public-health investigators from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concluded that the Nevada doctors “had worked themselves into a frenzy” over what was surely a purely psychological or behavioral phenomenon whose sufferers were “not normal Americans,” she reports. In the next few years, outbreaks continued around the country, but a panel of academic scientists asked to name the phenomenon opted to call it “chronic fatigue syndrome,” to suggest its psychological – rather than physical – nature and thus “prevent insurers from having to make ‘chronic disbursements,’ ” as one panel member joked.

Congress has appropriated funds for research over the years, though in relatively small amounts, but the CDC “has seemed unwilling to spend it productively,” says Johnson. Investigations by federal auditing agencies have revealed “that for years government scientists had been funneling millions meant for research on this disease into other pet projects.”

Meanwhile, the quickly-arrived-at and long-lasting opinion that chronic fatigue is not actually an illness has had some serious consequences. “As public health officials focused on psychiatric explanations, the virus apparently spread widely,” with as many as 10 million Americans now believed to carry the retrovirus, Johnson says.

Because the disease has gotten relatively little scientific attention, doctors still have no idea how it spreads. Among other things, that means that, though I really hope I don’t pass chronic fatigue on to you, nobody knows how I can prevent that.

Sometimes even scientists aren’t careful enough to heed what many believe to be their most hallowed professional creed: Follow all the evidence no matter where it leads, and be careful to keep an open mind.

Major Policy Shift on Cancer Screening Announced

Posted 10/21/09 by Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer, CQ Researcher

The New York Times reported this morning that the American Cancer Society (ACS) is shifting its longtime stance on cancer screening, suggesting now that the benefits of screening people for some common cancers – breast and prostate cancer, in particular – has been overstated.
“We don’t want people to panic, but I’m admitting that American medicine has overpromised when it comes to screening. The advantages to screening have been exaggerated,” said ACS chief medical officer Otis Brawley. ( http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/21/health/21cancer.htm?_r=1)

ACS’s new stance echoes the comments of some sources I spoke with for the CQ Researcher’s January 16, 2009, report, “Preventing Cancer.”

"It's immoral for surgeons not to tell patients that we [men] all get prostate cancer as we age," said Thomas A. Stamey, a professor emeritus of urology at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Stamey, at age 76, said he hadn't been screened for several years. "Do we really want to screen 100,000 men to save 226 from dying of prostate cancer?" he asked. "It's about the same chance of my not driving home safely tonight."
"The media have taken it on ourselves to promote everybody getting screened for everything," believing that's the right public-health message, said medical journalist Shannon Brownlee, author of "Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer". In international comparisons, U.S. survival rates for some cancers — such as a 99 percent five-year survival rate for prostate cancer — "make us look like geniuses," said Brownlee. But "if you're treating a lot of things that didn't need to be treated [in the first place], of course people are going to survive."

Screening doesn't always lengthen lives. In a 2007 study of computed tomography (CT) scanning of current and former smokers, researchers from New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center found nearly three times as many lung cancers as predicted but also found that the early detection and treatment "did not lead to a corresponding decrease in advanced lung cancers or a reduction in deaths."

Medical Marijuana Industry Growing in Popularity

Posted 10/21/09 by Emily DeRuy
Editorial Intern, CQ Researcher
Senior, UC, San Diego,
Political Science/Communications

The founder and president of Med Gro Cannabis College, in Southfield, Mich., hopes to capitalize on the growing medical marijuana industry. Nick Tennant opened the trade school in September to teach state-qualified caregivers how to treat specific chronic medical conditions with cannabis.

Botanists and lawyers teach the students -- a diverse mix ranging from recent high school graduates and ministers to everyone in between -- the legal and business issues surrounding medical marijuana, including pot history, cultivation, cooking and caregiving procedures. Tennant hopes that the market for medical cannabis will continue to grow nationwide, as it has in California, where it is estimated to be a $14 billion industry. Tennant also plans to sell related supplies and services to increase revenue.

The school is advertising through alternative publications such as Metro Times, a Google Adwords campaign and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. “We're trying to do whatever we can to make a name for ourselves,” said Tennant. Since Michigan voters approved a law last November allowing the state-regulated therapeutic use of marijuana, a number of symposiums on proper medical use of cannabis have been held, and The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation has opened a clinic that pairs qualified patients with physicians.

Tennant and others in the medical marijuana business say they want to counter the stigma associated with using marijuana. “Professionalism goes a long way. Our teachers are not just some stoner off the street. These are degreed botanists and attorneys teaching classes,” Tennant says. He says he hopes the school will help educate people about the benefits and proper usage of medical marijuana, as well as provide a source of income in a steadily growing market.

Source: Shea, Bill, “Cannabis on the Syllabus: Entrepreneur Trains Caregivers on Issues of Medical Marijuana,” Crain’s Detroit Business, October 11, 2009 http://www.crains detroit.com/article/20091011/FREE/310119950#

For more information see the CQ Researcher report on "Legalizing Marijuana" (6/12/09) [subscription required] or purchase the CQ Researcher PDF

Is prescription-drug abuse as serious as illegal drug abuse?

Below is an excerpt from the "Overview" section of the October 9, 2009 CQ Researcher report on "Medication Abuse" by Marcia Clemmitt

The use of legitimate prescription drugs like opioid painkillers and stimulants to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has soared in the United States over the past two decades. But along with increased legitimate use of opioids like Vicodin and OxyContin and stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall has come extensive abuse.

In recent years, prescription drugs have outpaced illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine as the cause of overdose deaths, according to both federal statistics and data from many states. “The number of deaths … that involved prescription opioid analgesics increased from 2,900 in 1999 to at least 7,500 in 2004,” up “150 percent in just five years,” with painkiller deaths more numerous than heroin- and cocaine-related deaths put together, said the CDC's Paulozzi. [Footnote 8]

While the CDC has not analyzed data beyond 2004, the trend is likely to continue, said Paulozzi. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), has found that “the number of emergency department visits for opioid overdoses increased steadily through 2007,” so that “the mortality statistics through 2005 probably underestimate the present magnitude of the problem.” [Footnote 9]

Considering the high rate at which Americans consume prescription drugs, there should be little surprise in such numbers, some analysts say.

Indeed, frequently abused Vicodin is the most-prescribed drug in the United States, with 117 million prescriptions written in 2008, says David S. Kloth, a Danbury, Conn., anesthesiologist and past president of the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians (ASIPP). By comparison, another heavily used drug, the cholesterol-lowering medicine Lipitor, was prescribed 61 million times last year, Kloth says.
Marijuana and Vicodin Are Most-Abused

Ninety-nine percent of the world's hydrocodone — Vicodin's opioid component — and 80 percent of the world's supply of narcotics, generally, are consumed in the United States, he says. “The actual, indirect societal costs [of prescription-drug abuse] are so huge that the problem can no longer be ignored,” says Kloth. “We have doctors assisting patients in abuse.”

There also has been a dramatic increase in deaths from methadone — in the wafer form prescribed as a pain medication, not the liquid form used as maintenance for former heroin addicts, says Hazelden's Seppala. “The pill is a lethal drug because it's so slow going out of one's system,” he says. But unwary people “take a whole bunch because it acts so slowly that they don't realize they're getting high,” and they end up dying from the drug's toxicity, he explains.

Today there is more abuse of prescription opiates than marijuana, says Kosten of Baylor College of Medicine. “The average first-time user is 15 years old,” and, unlike with most drug epidemics, females are as likely as males to abuse prescription medications. With illegal drugs, “boys are more likely to go out to find a dealer and get them,” but boys and girls can get prescription opiates on their own, for free, from their families' medicine chests, he says.

“Illicit drugs come and go,” but abuse of prescription drugs is likely to keep on expanding because of their availability, says Western Law School's Liang. “It's a growth industry for our kids, and addicted children become addicted adults.”

Among his students, “it's a normal thing to buy on the Internet,” Liang says. “This is the health-care system for kids today. And when you hear the justifications of college students — like, ‘I'm using [Adderall] because I'm trying to get into med school,’ followed by the admission that ‘I couldn't really cope with the test because I was so buzzed from the drug’ — you understand how serious substance-abuse-related problems can quickly grow,” he says.

Furthermore, “there's a real synergy between opioids diverted to illegal use and heroin, since many people get hooked on the diverted opioids” and then shift to illegal drugs or add them to the mix, says Robert G. Carlson, director of the Center for Interventions, Treatment and Addictions Research at Wright State University's Boonshoft School of Medicine in Dayton, Ohio. Abuse of prescription drugs also likely brings sellers of illegal drugs like heroin into areas where illegal-drug pushers haven't previously operated. “Sellers follow the drugs,” Carlson says.

Nevertheless, some observers say that facts on the ground may not warrant the alarms some substance-abuse specialists are sounding. “I haven't seen any communication from anyone indicating we're near a crisis mode or things have gotten a lot worse … in the recent past,” said Ron Petrin, vice president of the Board of Pharmacy in New Hampshire, a state in which some analyses find a surging epidemic of prescription-drug addiction. [Footnote 10]

Just as with illegal drugs, the number of people who initially abuse prescription drugs is far higher than those who actually become dependent, says Kosten. For both kinds of drugs, “eight people try opiates and one becomes dependent,” he says. For that reason, “it's a good bet that a substantial proportion [of prescription-drug abusers] will outgrow” the habit. Nevertheless, Kosten adds, “a lot of damage can happen in the meantime,” including education setbacks, such as poor grades, that take years to overcome, he says.

Abuse of prescription “opioids hit a peak in 2006, and it's still staying there, not really on the rise, but not dropping either,” says Michael H. Lowenstein, co-director of the Waismann Institute, a detoxification center in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Still, an alarming story making the media rounds may be more legend than fact, says Hazelden's Seppala. Beginning in the early 2000s, some news reports described “pharm parties,” in which teenagers scrounge up all the prescription drugs they can find, get together, toss all the drugs into a bowl, and grab and consume random handfuls of the medications. The story reached the mainstream with a USA Today account on June 13, 2006.[Footnote 11] But while some “pharm parties” probably do occur, “I don't think it's a common phenomenon,” says Seppala, who has researched them.

Similarly, while prescription sleeping pills are addictive, “the vast, vast majority of people never have a problem with them,” says Leslie Lundt, a psychiatrist in Boise, Idaho, who is the author of Think Like a Psychiatrist: Understanding Psychiatric Medicines. “Nearly 100 percent of the people who have issues with the ‘sleepers’ have had another substance-abuse or gambling issue.”

Some aspects of prescription drugs may ultimately make them easier for society to control than illegal drugs. As compared to alcoholics and heroin addicts, for example, “We see opioid pill addicts a lot earlier” in their substance-abusing lives, says Seppala. For all opioids, including heroin, “the addiction starts more quickly” than with most other substances, but pill addicts often find it harder to get a daily supply of their drug than street-drug addicts, and so fall into the pain of withdrawal sooner, which brings them to treatment, he says.

Unlike with illegal drugs, if abuse becomes a problem with a legal medication, “we can just make less of it, or make it a lot harder to get” by limiting the places at which the drug can be dispensed, requiring buyers to fill out certain forms, or the like, says Kosten.

The Issues:
* Is prescription-drug abuse as serious as illegal drug abuse?
* Is enough being done to combat medication abuse?
* Are patients in pain suffering because doctors fear prosecution for medication abuse?

For more information see the CQ Researcher report on "Medication Abuse" [subscription required] or purchase the CQ Researcher PDF

[8] Testimony before House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, July 12, 2007.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Quoted in Elaine Grant, “Pharmacy Board Stalls Drug Abuse Prevention Efforts, Advocates Say,” New Hampshire Public Radio, July 27, 2009, http://www.nhpr.org.

[11] Donna Leinwand, “Prescription Drugs Find Place in Teen Culture,” USA Today, June 13, 2006, p. 1A. David Emery, “Are Pharm Parties for Real?” David Emery's Urban Legends Blog, About.com, March 24, 2009, http://urbanlegends.about.com/b/2009/03/24/are-pharm-parties-for-real.htm.